It Starts With Us
by Colleen Hoover
Published by Atria Books
Book 2 in the It Ends With Us Duology
Lily and her ex-husband, Ryle, have just settled into a civil coparenting rhythm when she suddenly bumps into her first love, Atlas, again.
After nearly two years separated, she is elated that for once, time is on their side, and she immediately says yes when Atlas asks her on a date.
But her excitement is quickly hampered by the knowledge that, though they are no longer married, Ryle is still very much a part of her life—and Atlas Corrigan is the one man he will hate being in his ex-wife and daughter’s life.
I know it's January when this review is being released, but believe it or not, I had It Starts With Us preordered, and I read it the day it came out. My reviews are not usually THIS delayed, but I had went through a reading binge, then December is dedicated to holiday stories and top 10 lists for the year, and I'm currently planning a big update to the site, so there it is. After the emotional trauma that It Ends With Us put me through - thanks for that, Colleen Hoover - I needed more Atlas, and a happy ending.
It Starts With Us was not what I was expecting. I had predictions, that did not come to fruition. In fact, Colleen did a good job avoiding predictability in this book, because I was sure I knew what was going to happen in this book. I assumed it would be way more emotional, considering I usually spend 75% on Colleen's books with a puffy face, and a slight case of dehydration and a headache from the crying. No, It Starts With Us was a bit ... boring? No. Wrong word. It just wasn't as emotionally taxing as It Starts With Us. And, spoilers ahead guys, while Lily is the main character in both of these books, these books really reflect on the person she is partnered with. It Ends With Us is heartbreaking, bittersweet, and did I say heartbreaking? You feel emotionally wrung out for days, if not WEEKS, after reading it. The feelings you get with It Ends With Us are on point with Ryle's character. Head over heels, then heartbroken and confused. It Starts With Us is comfort. Atlas is a big bear hug, safety, and pure love, and honestly, that is what It Starts With Us is. There is very little conflict in this book, other than what you would expect.
It Starts With Us may have been pure fan service, but honestly, after what we were put through with It Ends With Us, we deserve it. We needed a warm Atlas hug, and to tell us it was okay. And while it wasn't as intense as It Ends With Us, I found myself not wanting it to end. I wanted more. I wanted their wedding, Lily's reaction to his awesome vows, and their blended family growing together. But you know what - I'm content. Thank you Colleen, for giving us this.
Lucy: "Maybe we'll just call it off and go to Vegas. You eloped, right? Do you regret it?"
I don't know which part of all that to address first.
Lily: "How can you hate crafting? You work at a flower shop. And I'm divorced; of course I regret eloping."
I hand her a small stack of orders I haven't gotten to yet.
Lily: "But it was fun."
Atlas: "So, what do I do? Text her? Call her? Wait until she reaches out to me?"
Theo: "It's been eight hours, Atlas. Calm down."
His advice is giving me whiplash.
Atlas: "Two minutes ago, you acted like eight hours without a text was too long. Now you're telling me to calm down?"
Theo shrugs and then kicks my desk to make his chair spin.
Theo: "I'm twelve. I don't even have a phone yet, and you want my opinion on texting etiquette?"
It surprises me that he doesn't have a phone yet. Brad doesn't seem like he would be a strict father.
Atlas: "Why don't you have a phone?"
Theo: "Dad says I can have one when I turn thirteen. Two more months."
he says wistfully.
Theo has been coming to the restaurant a couple of days a week after school since Brad's promotion six months ago. Theo told me he wanted to be a therapist when he grows up, so I let him practice on me. At first, the talks we would have were intended for his benefit. But lately, I feel like I'm the one benefiting.
Brad peeks his head into my office in search of his son.
Brad: "Let's go. Atlas has work to do."
He motions for Theo to stand up, but Theo just keeps spinning in my desk chair.
Theo: "Atlas is the one who called me in here. He needed advice."
Brad: "I'll never understand what this is,"
Brad says, pointing between me and Theo.
Brad: "What advice can you get from my son? How to avoid your chores and win at Minecraft?"
Theo stands up and stretches his arms over his head.
Theo: "Girls, actually. And winning isn't the point of Minecraft, Dad. It's more of a sandbox game."
Theo looks over his shoulder at me as he's leaving my office.
Theo: 'Just text her."
Atlas: "You need to get Theo a phone; he's almost thirteen."
Brad: "You need to get a therapist who's closer to your own age."
Atlas is walking towards us.
Allysa: "Is that ..."
Lily: "Oh, God."
I mutter under my breath.
Allysa: "Yes, he is a god."
Lily: "What is it?"
Atlas: "Our weekend special. It's called why are you avoiding me pasta."
Allysa: "Found them!"
She drops them in Ryle's palm.
Allysa: "Okay, bye, you can leave now."
Ryle makes a move like he's about to go, but then he turns and sniffs the air.
Ryle: "What smells so good?"
His and Allysa's eyes meet the bowl at the same time. Allysa pulls it to her, cradling it.
Allysa: "I cooked lunch for me and Lily,"
Ryle raises an eyebrow.
Ryle: "You cooked?"
He reached for the bowl.
Ryle: "I have to see this. What is it?"
Allysa hesitates before handing him the bowl.
Allysa: "Yeah, it's chicken ... baraba doula ... meat."
She looks at me and her eyes are wide. She is such a horrible liar.
Ryle: "Chicken what?"
Ryle opens the bowl and inspects it.
Ryle: "It looks like shrimp pasta."
Allysa clears her throat.
Allysa: "Yeah. I cooked the shrimp in ... chicken stock. That's why it's called chicken baraba doulameat."
Ryle puts the lid back on and looks at me with concern as he slides the bowl across the counter back to Allysa.
Ryle: "I'd order pizza if I were you."
Atlas: "Not saying a word, Theo. Client confidentiality goes both ways."
That seem to reassure him.
Theo: "Good, because if you said something to my dad, I'd have to tell him how cheesy you are with your pick up lines."
Theo mockingly presses his palms to his cheeks.
Theo: "We finally reached the beach, my little whale."
I glare at him.
Atlas: "That is not at all how it went."
Theo points across the kitchen.
Theo: 'Look! It's sand - we've reached land!"
Theo: "Lily, what the heck, our boat is wrecked!"
Lily: "I am so sorry."
Atlas: "For what?"
Lily: "I think I just flashed you."
Atlas: "You did, but it's not something you should apologize for. I should thank you"
Theo: "That's Lily?"
Atlas: "That's Lily."
I slide my phone into my pocket and take the trash bag from Theo."
Theo: "That explains it."
He drops down onto the top step.
Atlas: Explains what?"
Theo: "Why you get so tongue-tied around her and say the stupid stuff you say."
I disagree with his belief that the things I say to her are stupid, but he's right about one thing. She's sp beautiful, I do sometimes feel tongue-tied around her.
Atlas: "I can't wait until you start dating. I'm going to give you so much shit."
Allysa: "Is this a date outfit?"
she whispers it then closes the front door.
Allysa: "Is it the Greek god?"
Lily: "Atlas. Yes. Please don't tell your brother."
Right when I say that, I notice Marshall standing close by in the living room. He immediately covers his ears and say
Marshall: "I heard nothing. I see nothing. Lalalalalala.
We're grown-ups with careers, and she's a mother and a boss and independent. It's sexy as hell.
I can't tell you what the rest of that day was like. To feel so incredibly unwanted, unloved, alone. I had no one. Nothing. No money, no belongings, no family.
Just a wound.
We're impressionable when we're younger, and when you're told you are nothing for years on end by everyone you should mean something to, you start to believe it. And you slowly start to become nothing.
But then I met you, Lily. And even though I was nothing, when you looked at me, you somehow saw something. Something I couldn't see. You were the first person in my life to show an interest in who I was as a human. No one had ever asked me questions about myself the way you did. After those few months I spent getting to know you, I stopped feeling like I was nothing. You made me feel interesting and unique. Your friendship gave me worth.
Thank you for that. Even if this date leads nowhere and we never speak again, I will always be grateful to you for somehow seeing something in me that my own mother was blind to.
You're my favorite person, Lily. And now you know why.
Atlas: "I'm not going to kiss you tonight."
I hope my disappointment isn't obvious, but I know it is. I practically deflate in front of him.
Lily: "Is it my punishment for falling asleep?"
Atlas: "Of course not. I'm just feeling inferior after reading about our first kiss."
I sputter laughter.
Lily: "Inferior to who? Yourself?"
Atlas: "Teenage Atlas through your eyes was quite the charmer."
Lily: "So is adult Atlas."
Atlas: "Would a hug make you feel better?"
Lily: "Obviously, I'll be fine after I get some sleep, though. Talk tomorrow?"
I have no idea what happened between our date and this phone call, but she looks completely defeated. She looks very similar to how I feel.
Atlas: "Hugs take two seconds, and you'll sleep so much better. I'll be back here before they even know I left. What's your address?"
A small grin peeks through her gloom.
Lily: "You're going to drive five miles just to give me a hug?"
Atlas: "I'd run five miles just to give you a hug."
That makes her smile even bigger.
Atlas: "An eleven-year-old muttering cuss words all the time seems desperate. It's not cool until you're at least fourteen."
Josh: "I'm not eleven, I'm twelve."
Atlas: "Oh. She said you were eleven. Still. Too young to be cool."
Lily: "I have no idea what I'm doing. No parent does. We're all full of imposter syndrome , winging it every minute of the day."
Atlas: "Why is that both comforting and terrifying?"
Lily: "You just summed up parenting with those two words."
Allysa: "This whole thing is muddled. I don't need to explain it to you. But I absolutely see why you're so hesitant to tell Ryle. Knowing his ex-wife is sharing a bed with that block of perfection has got to be extremely emasculating."
I raise a brow.
Lily: "Not as emasculating as beating your wife should feel."
I'm a little shocked when the words come out of my mouth, but I can't take them back. I don't think I need to though, because luckily, my best friend isn't a ride-or-die sister.
Rather than be offended, Allysa agrees with a nod.
Allysa: "Touché, Lily. Touché."
Lily: "Every time I would start to take on the guilt and justify Ryle's actions, I would think about you. I would ask myself what your reaction would have been compared to Ryle's. Because I know it would have been different. If I would have laughed at you under the same circumstances that I laughed at Ryle, you would have laughed with me. You never would have backhanded me. And if any man on this planet gave me their phone number as a way to protect me from someone they feared was dangerous, you would appreciate them for that. You wouldn't have pushed me down a flight of stairs. And if the journals I let you read were about another boy in high school besides you, you would have teased me. You probably would have highlighted lines you thought were cheesy and laughed about them with me."
I stop speaking until Atlas brings his focus back to mine, and then I finish.
Lily: "Every time I would doubt myself and think that what Ryle did to me was in any way deserved, all I had to do was think about you, Atlas. I think about how differently each scenario would have been if it were you; and that helped me remember that none of it was my fault. You're a big p art of the reason I got through it, even though you weren't there."
Theo: "Oh, are you at Lily's?"
Theo says, moving closer to the phone screen. He's grinning.
Theo: "Did you finally kiss her? Can she hear me? What line did you use to get her to invite you in? Lily! We watched people wed, let's hop into -"
I immediately end the call before he finishes that rhyme, but Lily heard that whole conversation. She's standing a few feet away from me, holding two glasses of wine. Her head is tilted in confusion.
Lily: "Who was that?"
Lily: "How old is he?"
Lily: "You talk to a twelve-year-old about us?"
She seems amused by this. I take the glass of wine from her, and right before I sip it, I say
Atlas: "He's my therapist. We meet every Thursday at four."
Lily: "Your therapist is in junior high?"
Atlas: "Yeah, but he's about to get fired."
In our marriage, the few terrifying incidents were blanketed by so many good ones, but now that our marriage is over, the blanket has lifted and all I'm left with are the worst pieces of him. Where our marriage was once full of heart and flesh that cushioned the skeleton, all that's left is the skeleton now. Sharp, bony edges that slice right through me.
Atlas: "This is our life now. Yours, mine, Lily's, your daughter's. We have to deal with this. Forever. Holidays, birthdays, graduations, Emerson's wedding. All these things are going to be difficult for you, but you're the only one who can make sure they aren't difficult for the rest of us, too. Because none of us owes you our happiness. Especially Lily."
Ryle shakes his head. He paces like he's trying to erase the asphalt and uncover earth.
Ryle: "You expect to what - to cheer you two on? To wish you well? To encourage you to be a good father to my fucking daughter?"
He laughs at the absurdity he finds in the idea of that, but I keep a very straight face.
Atlas: "Yes. Exactly that."
I think my response throws him off. He pauses and threads his hands at the nape of his neck.
I take a step closer to him, but not in a threatening way. I don't want to yell. I want Ryle to hear the absolute sincerity in my voice.
Atlas: "As happy as I know I can make Lily, she'll never be fully happy until she has your acceptance and cooperation. And you're making it difficult, even though you know she deserves a good life. They both do. If you want your daughter to grow up with the best version of Lily, then please work with her. This is possible for all of us."
Ryle rolls his neck.
Ryle: "What are we, some kind of team now?"
I hate that he's trying to make any of this sound beyond the realm of possibility.
Atlas: "A team is the only thing people should be when kids are involved."
Darin: "You're bleeding."
He points to the left side of my mouth, so I hold the rag there.
Darin: "Was that her ex?"
Darin: "Everything okay now?"
Atlas: "I don't know. He might get mad and come back. Hell, this could go on for years."
I look at Darin and smile.
Atlas: "But she's worth it."
Josh: "Lily made us breakfast."
Josh says to him.
Atlas: "I see that."
Atlas walks over and kisses me on the cheek, then picks up a piece of bacon and takes a bite.
Josh: "Kind of sucks."
Josh mutters in warning.
Atlas: "Don't insult my girlfriend or I'll stop cooking for you."
Atlas steals the last slice of bacon off Josh's plate.
Josh: "These eggs are great, Lily."
Josh says with fake enthusiasm.
Atlas: "Why do I feel so worried for him?"
Lily: "Because you love him."
Atlas's eyes scroll over my face.
Atlas: "Is t hat why I always feel worried for you? Because I love you?"
My breath hitches at his question.
Lily: "I don't know. Do you?"
Atlas digs his fingers into my waist, and he pulls me to him. He lifts his hand and traces a finger down my neck, until it meets my tattoo.
Atlas: "I've loved you for years and years and years, Lily. You know that."
He moves his finger and then kisses me there, and that move coupled with his words takes everything in me to keep my composure.
Lily: "I've loved you just as long."
Atlas: "I know you have. No one on this earth loves me like you do."
He's been on the same page for five minutes. It's a drawing of what looks like a battle scene, but mostly all I see is cleavage."
Atlas: "Is that manga appropriate for a twelve-year-old?"
He shifts ever so slightly so that the cover of the book is all I can see.
Atlas: "It blows my mind that this man has you for a son and you want to be in his life, yet he still hasn't made an effort. You're a privledge, Josh. Believe me, if I'd known you existed, I would have knocked over buildings to find you."
Josh: "You know the homework I'm behind on? The family tree?"
Josh pulls his seatbelt and begins to fasten it.
Josh: "They never said how big the tree needed to be. I'll just draw a baby seedling. They don't have branches."
He pats the dash.
Josh: "Let's go."
I laugh hard at that. I wasn't expecting it. The way this kid weaves humor into the most depressing moments gives me hope for him. I think he's gonna be okay.
Atlas: "A seedling, huh?"
I start the car and pull on my own seatbelt.
Atlas: "That might work."
Josh: "I can draw a seedling with two tiny branches. Yours and mine. We'll be our own brand-new, tiny family tree - one that starts with us."
I feel heat behind my eyes, so I grab my sunglasses off the dash and put them on.
Atlas: "A whole new family tree that starts with us. I like it."
Josh: "And we'll do a much better job of keeping it alive than our shitty parents did."
Josh flips him off and yells
Josh: "Ass hole,"
out my window. Once we're out of Tim's eyesight, Josh falls back against his seat, laughing.
Atlas: "It's asshole, Josh. One word."
he says, pronouncing it the correct way.
Atlas: "Thank you. Now stop saying it. You're twelve."
I say his name sympathetically because he does look absolutely drained.
Lily: "Do you need me to come over and give you a hug?"
Atlas: "You man do I need you to come home and give me a hug?"
I smile when he says that.
Lily:" Yes. That's exactly what I meant. Do you need me to come home and give you a hug?"
Atlas: "I do, Lily. Come home."
Lily: "Did you like it?"
Josh: "It was pretty funny, considering it started with the brutal slaughter of all that caviar."
Josh: "You aren't staying over?"
Theo: "I can't tonight; my parents are taking me to a thing in the morning."
Josh: "I want to go to a thing."
Theo is pulling on his shoes when he hesitates
Theo: "Yeah, I don't know."
Josh: "Where are you going?"
Theo's eyes flash briefly to mine, and then back to Josh.
Theo: "It's a parade."
He says it quietly, but also like it's a warning.
Josh: "A parade?"
Josh tilts his head.
Josh: "Why are you being weird? What kind of parade is it? A pride parade?"
Theo swallows like him and Josh haven't had this conversation, so I'm nervous on Theo's behalf. But I've been around Josh enough over the last several months to know that he values his friendship with Theo.
Josh grabs his shoes and sits next to me on the couch and starts putting them on.
Josh: "What are you saying? I'm not allowed to go to a pride thing because I like girls?"
Theo shifts from one foot to the other.
Theo: "You can go ... I just didn't know if you knew."
Josh rolls his eyes.
Josh: "You can tell a lot about a person by their taste in manga, Theo. I'm not a dumbass."
Mom: "It makes me happy to know there's a man in your life that gives meaningful hugs like that."
Lily: "He gives more than great hugs."
My mother scoffs.
She stands up, shaking her head.
Mom: "I'm going home now."
I'm laughing to myself as she leaves. Then I use my free hand to text Atlas.
I love you so much, you idiot.
Theo is sitting on the couch, attempting to convince me to let him read my vows before the wedding.
Atlas: "I'm not reading them to you."
Theo: "You're going to embarrass yourself."
Atlas: "I'm not. They're good."
Theo: "Atlas. Come on. I'm trying to help you. For all I know, you probably end them with something like, It is my wish for you to be my fish."
I laugh. I don't know how he still comes up with these lines after two years of this.
If someone would have told me when I was a teenager that I would have a fifty-fifty chance of living my entire life with you, I would have felt like the luckiest human on the planet.
If someone would have told me that I had a 50 percent chance of being loved by you, I would have wondered what the hell I did to get so lucky.
If someone would have told me that we'd get married one day, and I'd get to give you your dream honeymoon in Europe, and that our marriage would have a 50% chance of being successful, I would have immediately asked what size your ring finger was so that we could get started.
Marshall is holding open the door.
Marshall: "You ready? It's time."
I nod, more than ready, but before I stuff my vows back into my pocket, I decide to make one small change. I don't touch anything already written, but I do add a line to the very end.
P.S. It is my wish for you to be my fish.